This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE
When Ukraine met Sweden in their Euro 2012 opener, it was a tale of two sides elevated by their talismanic strikers, Andriy Shevchenko and Zlatan Ibrahimović. Being at a major competition, this game will have felt massive for both sides, but it was truly historic for the Ukrainians. Not only was it being played at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv, as they were co-hosting the tournament with Poland, it was also their first match at a European Championship.
It was inevitable that the two heroes of their respective nations would play integral roles in how the game would turn out, and that proved to be the case. They both missed first-half chances, with Shevchenko dragging a shot wide, while Ibrahimović hit the post with a header. Andriy Yarmolenko also scuppered his chance to score, his shot blocked.
It was the Swedes who opened the scoring. Despite Ukraine having a man down injured, Sebastien Larsson attacked down the right flank before sending a short cross into the box, with the ball being returned to him by Ola Toivonen. At the second attempt, he sent a deep ball towards the back post that skimmed over Yarmolenko’s head to Kim Källström. The midfielder took a touch out of his feet and passed to Ibrahimović to prod home from the edge of the six-yard box in the 52nd minute.
Their lead didn’t last long, though – just three minutes. Ukraine right-back Oleh Husyev surged forward with the ball at his feet, offloading it to Yarmolenko on the wing. The Dynamo Kyiv man jinked to get himself a yard on Martin Olsson and sent his cross to the near post. Shevchenko showed the predatory instincts that had made him so feared by defences across Europe for years, beating Olof Mellberg in the air and powering his header past Andreas Isaksson.
Just seven minutes later, things got even better for Shevchenko and his nation. Yevhen Konoplyanka had played a driven corner towards the front post. Ukraine’s talisman got ahead of Ibrahimović, who provided some rather lax defending, squeezing his header between Mikael Lustig and the front post before running off to jubilantly celebrate with his teammates.
Sweden had their chances to get back on level terms. Ibrahimović let off a powerful strike, but Andriy Pyatov blocked it with his legs. The star man then played Johan Elmander behind the Ukraine defence with an intelligently flicked pass, but the Galatasaray frontman lifted the ball over the goalkeeper and crossbar.
In the end, they were unable to breach the yellow defence a second time, and the final whistle blew to confirm that Ukraine had earned all three points in their maiden Euros match.
By Danny Lewis @DannyLewis_95